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George's Gems

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"When Your House Is Not a Home" (Track 3, "George Jones Sings Like the Dickens!" Razor & Tie, 1995) Play the track here

One of the most underappreciated singers in country music is Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens, who turns 75 this year. Instead of being remembered for the fine ballad singer that he is, his main legacy is a string of rather silly novelty tunes (his biggest hit was "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose") perhaps engendered because crowds found it hard to take the less-than-five-foot Dickens seriously. It's a pity — he had a fine voice (it's a bit ragged now), some good material in his repertoire and a good heart. But he had a true fan in Jones, helped in part by the fact that Dickens was one of the more welcoming stars on hand when the Possum made his Opry debut in 1956. And so when Jones was under pressure in the early '60s to churn out record after record for his new label, United Artists, he chose to do a tribute to Dickens. He has paid several complete-disc homages to other singers (Bob Wills, Hank Williams and Leon Payne among them), but this one, originally released in 1964, is the most successful. Maybe because he was awed by Wills and Williams, he tended to imitate on those discs; on the Dickens album he did it his way. And rather than playing Dickens' novelty tunes — though he used one or two — he dug deeper to mine some of the many ballads that Dickens used to fill out his albums and shows.

Why George Jones? Matt Diebel explains here.

Past Gems:
'Three's a Crowd'
'Mr. Fool'

One of the best is this Roger Miller tune, a precursor to one of Jones' biggest '70s hits, "The Grand Tour." In it, a man considers his house and its contents after his woman has hit the road. Jones is at his clench-jawed best, emoting furiously through a barely opened mouth as he looks over their house and belongings. (Watching videos from this period, Jones' lips are so close together it's amazing that any notes come out at all.) Adding to the pleasure is some excellent session work, in particular a well-plucked dobro — an instrument not used much by country singers of the period — as well as some great fiddle and pedal steel. "Sings Like the Dickens" was rereleased in 1995 by New York Cityľbased reissue specialists Razor & Tie, who have done a fine job delving into the archives to find old stuff from Jones and other country greats. It's still available at your friendly neighborhood Internet store.